Getting Over the Hump

      A Night out with Homeless of Cincinnati

By Jeremy Wiedle

Originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer on May 10, 2013

There is a version of reality in Cincinnati that most encounter every day but rarely see. It is a reality that, until experienced, can never be understood. I only experienced a fragment of it when I chose to spend a recent Friday and Saturday in the world of the homeless and impoverished of the inner city.

A friend presented the idea with a simple mission: sleep for the night with this community in an attempt to understand how those in it live. Some may say we are naïve. Others could describe us as fools unaware of the potential danger. How we are defined is not of importance, but what we saw and learned are. I would like to share both.

We met Lisa at Washington Park. She didn't know before talking to us that we already knew who she was. We saw her five minutes before lying face down on the sidewalk outside a Vine Street bar bleeding from the left side of her head. Dressed in a sweatshirt, blue jeans and sneakers, it was clear she was not coming out of the upscale place. A fire truck and paramedics arrived, pulled her to her feet and dropped her off one block away in Washington Park.

We asked if we could help. With blood running from the bottom of her eye and the corner of her forehead, she cried, saying she was scared and did not know what was going on. We sat her on a bench where she had a violent seizure. We called again for emergency help. A different group of paramedics and police arrived, but they didn't take Lisa with them. She said she had been drinking and insisted she didn't want to go to the hospital. The officer informed us that by law they couldn't take her unless she wanted to go.

After talking with an employee from the homeless shelter for the mentally ill, Tender Mercies, we learned Lisa was disabled and had not taken her medication. Lisa could not check into the facility because of a past expulsion. We walked her to the bus stop to head to an address she knew in Price Hill, hoping she knew where she new she was going.

Roger is unemployed. We met him sitting on a milk crate outside an apartment building on Vine Street - dressed in cleaner, thrift-store clothes and hunched over, arms resting on his knees. Roger has not always been unemployed, nor without a home. He has children, a former girlfriend and had a home. But all became part of his past when he was sent to jail in 2004 after signing bad checks. He was released a year ago but cannot find work.

Having left the prison system with no money, he lives on the little money he receives from passing pedestrians. He is looking for work at a temp service, but to be eligible for work he must pay the legal services to have his record expunged. In order to pay, he must have a job.

Claims can be made that the problems in these scenarios and their solutions rest solely upon the individual. But these problems are widespread. They can be found in nearly every corner of our world. Is it possible that some blame is not proportionately given? Institutions are all around us. They govern and organize the society we live in. They can keep some safe, wealthy and mostly free from discontent, but they can just as easily ostracize, punish and restrain those who are ill, in need or were never given opportunity to begin with.

We never made it to the shelter, its doors closed Friday evening. We walked the city throughout the night like many others do when they are shut out.